Science Says: Solar specs needed for safe viewing of eclipse


Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA.

With the total solar eclipse right around the cosmic corner, eye doctors are going into nagging overdrive.

They say mom was right: You can damage your eyes staring at the sun, even the slimmest sliver of it.

So it’s time to rustle up special eclipse eyewear to use Aug. 21, when the U.S. has its first full solar eclipse spanning coast to coast in 99 years.

No peeking, for example, without eclipse glasses or other certified filters except during the two minutes or so when the moon completely blots out the sun, called totality.

That’s the only time it’s safe to view the eclipse without protection. When totality is ending, then it’s time to put them back on.

What can happen when you look directly at the sun?

You’re essentially cooking your retina, the delicate, light-sensitive tissue deep inside the eyeball. Solar radiation can kill those cells. Hours can pass before you realize the extent of the damage.

It’s known in the trade as solar blindness or solar retinopathy – not total blindness, rather more like age-related macular degeneration, where you have trouble reading or recognizing faces, or lose those abilities altogether.

“It’s really important to resist the urge to look even momentarily, directly in the sun because you have no real sense of time,” says Dr. Christopher Quinn, president of the American Optometric Association.

Forget sunglasses. Certified eclipse glasses or hand-held viewers are a must for direct viewing. Or you can look indirectly with a pinhole projector – homemade will do, crafted from a shoebox, or grab a kitchen colander – that casts images of the eclipsed sun onto a screen at least 3 feet away.

NASA, the American Astronomical Society and others are urging eclipse watchers to stick with reputable makers of sun-gazing devices.

Don’t use eclipse glasses with filters that are crumpled, scratched or torn. If you can see any light besides the sun, it’s time for new solar specs.

Eclipse glasses can be worn directly over your prescription glasses or with contacts. As for binoculars, telescopes and cameras, high-quality solar filters are essential and must be mounted at the front end.

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